Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Elf the Musical @ Al Hirschfeld Theatre

In an age where Will Ferrell films dominate the comedy scene, it seemed only natural to see this modern Christmas Classic be brought to stage. The stage adaptation of the film, naturally, removed some of the elements seen in the film version; however, none of these items are missed because the stage setting and added effects only enhanced the show for the better. Elf is a great new Christmas musical!

The first act was a little long and seemed to speed through some of the key plot points; however, this did not distract from the overall quality of the show. The second act was non-stop fun and action and really brought a great end to an entertaining holiday show. All of the musical numbers fit perfectly with the story and brought the tale of Buddy the Elf to a whole new level of fun and amusement.

The acting in Elf was exceptional. Sebastian Arcelus (Jersey Boys, Wicked), playing the main character Buddy the Elf, did an exceptional job at making the character all his own. He kept the child-like sense of wonder that makes Buddy’s antics not only hilarious but also heartwarming and loveable. Blowing the audience away, as usual, was Amy Spanger (The Wedding Singer, Rock of Ages) playing Jovie, the skeptical and sarcastic love interest of Buddy. Her acting and singing was spot on. One could only wish that they had used this talented lady a little more. The way the story is written, the character of Jovie falls slightly to the shadows but Spanger’s talents shine through in every scene. Beth Leavel (The Drowsy Chaperone) and Matthew Gumley (The Addams Family), playing mother and son duo Emily and Michael Hobbs, work well together and the chemistry they had while on stage was incredible. Their scene work together showcased a close relationship and cynical connection to Christmas. Leavel was one of the most interesting characters in a role that differs greatly from the film. She broke the standard cookie cutter wife image of a modern day mother who loves her son, and instead treats him like an adult and is not afraid to stand up to her Scrooge of a husband. That husband, Walter Hobbs, was played by Mark Jacoby (Ragtime), and was the only character that did not dazzle upon the stage. The “bah-humbug” personality was standard and did not bring anything new to a classic Christmas antagonist. As the heartless businessman Jacoby did have a rather entertaining song “In the Way,” but it was nothing memorable given the vocals and characterization. Santa, played by George Wendt (known for his work of television’s Cheers), was an absolute delight. He chose to veer slightly from the “jolly old Saint Nick” image to depict a blue-collar working class guy who busts his buns during the holiday season. Santa, just like any man, wants to kick off his shoes after a hard day of work and watch the football game; however, he is persuaded to tell the audience one of his most beloved Christmas stories, acting as narrator of the show and setting the scene and style for everyone (even breaking the forth wall). In all, the character of Santa was perfectly brought to life by Wendt and is one of the best performances of the show.

The technical elements of Elf were stunning, for the most part. The choreography, done by director Casey Nicholaw, was simple and worked well with the show. One of the most creative dance numbers of the show was a full cast tap number at the end that that featured the entire cast in elf-styled tap shoes. Another fun number was “Sparklejollytwinklejingley.” It was a sparkly, jolly, twinkley, jingley visual pleasure as a store is decked in tinsel and Christmas attire. The dance number was fun to watch and the enthusiasm of the cast members really made it memorable. The scenic design of Elf, done by David Rockwell, was visually stunning. Every set piece felt like a book was popping up out of the stage to tell the incredible story. The use of lights throughout the show not only kept the spirit of the holiday season alive it also gave depth and personality to the set. The projections for Elf, designed by Zachary Borovay, were brilliant. This show was projection heavy and every single projection that was used was great. They moved the story along and it kept it interesting without taking away from the action on stage. Unfortunately, sound, designed by Peter Hylenski, is where the show hit its low point. Although the orchestrations were great, it overpowered the actors to the point where the audience could not hear at times. Back to the brilliant, the costumes, designed by Gregg Barnes, were incredible. Barnes really paid attention to detail and stole the show from the technical aspect. Simple touches, like the unique differences in each Santa suit and the strict similarity in the elves costumes, made the costumes fun and exciting to look at. The costumes stayed true to the styles of the film and also gave it that Broadway touch with Buddy’s outfit and all the elves costumes.

Although Elf is filled with family entertainment, validated by the numerous little ones occupying seats in the theater, there were still many adult themes and jokes. These “grown-up jokes” would of course go over the young ones heads and act as an added level for us mature minded folk. Elf is definitely recommended for all trying to get into the holiday spirit.

Review By: James Russo & Amanda Arena


A Life in the Theatre @ Gerald Schoenfeld Theatre

A Life in the Theatre, written by famed play write David Mamet, tells the story of two actors from completely different generations. We watch as they struggle to work together both on and off stage. A Life in the Theatre is a very interesting piece of theatre; however, it does not exactly work.

A Life in the Theatre stars two extremely talented actors that appear to be very restricted on stage by the script, scene changes, costume changes, and all around choppiness of the play as a whole. The first of these two actors is Patrick Stewart, known by most from his work on "Star Trek" and "X-Men." Steward plays Robert, an older actor that is on his way out. While Steward has several beautiful serious moments throughout the play, his comedic lines and timing felt forced and over the top. The second actor was T.R. Knight, known for his work on the hit television series "Grey’s Anatomy." Knight plays John, a younger actor who is just beginning his long career in the theatre. Knight fell way short of where he needed to be. He was often dull and unresponsive to the action going on around him. Also, the chemistry between these two actors was very awkward; at times it was uncomfortable to watch. It was upsetting that after sitting through a 90 minute play, one never forgot that it was Steward and Knight up on that stage. It was never for one second believed that they were actually Robert and John. This is a perfect case of how two great actors do not always equal one great play.

A Life in the Theatre had some problems in the technical side as well. While Mamet is arguably one of the best play writes of this generation, this play will not go down as one of his bests. The play was extremely choppy and had no major conflict. The audience never had a chance to connect to a scene because the lack of problems and shortness of the scenes made it close to impossible. Under the direction of Neil Pepe, the many scene changes were wonderfully choreographed using stage hands to move all of the set pieces. While this was a neat concept, after a while it began to become overbearing and took away from the story that was trying to be told. With a scenic design by Santo Loquasto, lighting design by Kenneth Posner, and costume design by Laura Bauer, A Life in the Theatre was a beautiful sight to watch, but fell short in many areas. The scenic design, while over all stunning, could have been more realistic. More could have been done to represent a backstage space other than a few stairs, a sink, and a ghost light. The lighting design that covered the back wall to represent what an actor sees when looking into an audience was stunning; however, it fell short for the rest of the play. Basic “lights up and lights down” lighting is nice, but after a while becomes boring. The many costumes were wonderful; however, with no fault to Bauer, there were simply too many costume changes, therefore, making the audience tired of seeing the costumes instead of excited to see her wonderful work.

Over all, A Life in the Theatre fell short of many expectations. If you are looking for a modern comedy and you love Stuart and/or Knight, then this play may be worth it; however, for everyone else, I would not recommend A Life in the Theatre. If you really want to know what the life of an actor is like, simply ask one of the stars at the stage door. They will probably put it in better terms that Mamet ever could.

Review By: James Russo & Ryan Oliveti